December 16, 2003
[Robert Bartley, editor emeritus of The Wall Street Journal, died on December 10, 2003 from cancer.]
When President Bush awarded Robert Bartley the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he called Bob "one of the most influential journalists in American history." The president probably wasn't thinking about Bob's contributions to the welfare of people suffering from serious diseases. For most readers, the Bartley legacy is an exquisitely refined and powerful statement of free-market principles and the sacred trust of leadership. But for those in desperate need of advanced drug regimens and other experimental interventions, Bob was also their most articulate advocate. He wrote repeatedly and effectively about the need to value patients' lives more highly than adherence to often-outmoded regulations. I believe it is no coincidence that in the wake of his pointed editorials and columns, today's FDA and the National Institutes of Health are pursuing a more effective course.
It is a sad irony that Bob's campaign for faster medical progress, which will help so many of us in the long run, could not save his own life. But he had the satisfaction that few are able to claim: he made a difference, an enormous difference, to our nation and the world. From the first time I met him 20 years ago, through our discussions over the years about expanding capital access, to our joint service on the board of FasterCures / The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions, and when we talked on the phone as recently as the weekend before he passed away, Bob was always looking ahead to the next challenge he could confront with his formidable pen.
Bob knew it takes steely determination to bring about lasting change. And he never quit. Though racked by cancer that had painfully metastasized, he rose from a sickbed just a month ago to attend the Prostate Cancer Foundation's annual scientific retreat. He wanted to hear the latest progress reports from the leading researchers; and he wanted to tell them to keep at it no matter how many leads turned up empty. He knew that the mapping of the human genome will lead to an explosion of discovery that portends untold benefits for humanity if, as he said, we can "shake our pessimism and decide what we want to do."
Bob was born only months before Congress established the National Cancer Institute in 1938. During the course of his lifetime, our nation chose to devote 100 times as much money to nuclear weapons development as it has to cancer research -- six trillion dollars vs. $60 billion. It is not for me to say that such a balance of priorities is misplaced. Military spending has helped preserve the freedoms that we all cherish. But I have to believe that Bob would want us to invest more of our future resources in the life-extending and life-saving research programs that offer hope to so many around the world.
Santa Monica, Calif.